Davey Johnson first talked about the fact that 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper was dealing with back issues after he'd missed on a diving play in right field during the series with the New York Mets last week. Harper recovered the ball after he'd failed to make the catch, threw it back in and fell to the ground in the outfield. It appeared he'd knocked the wind out of himself. The Nats' trainer visited Harper but the rookie shook it off and stayed in the game. "When he dove for the ball I thought he knocked the wind out of himself," Davey Johnson said, "That predominantly was the case, he's also has been nursing kind of a tender back, so we'll have to monitor him pretty close."
Harper was reportedly surprised the issue had even been brought up when reporters asked about his back after Davey Johnson's press conference:
Harper seemed surprised his back was even brought up as an issue. "I’m totally fine. I’m going to play. I won’t be out of the lineup."— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) June 7, 2012
Harper was able to play in the first game that followed the chatter about his back bothering him and in his first career trip to Boston's 100-year-old Fenway Park, Harper went 3 for 5 with a double and a home run Friday night, earning polite applause from either a vocal contingent of visiting Nats backer or Red Sox fans who were simply impressed with what he was able to do on the field. Harper went 0 for 3 with a walk and a run scored in Saturday's 4-2 win over Boston, but before the Sunday finale Davey Johnson announced that his outfielder would sit for the first time since he was called up to make his MLB debut back on April 28th in Los Angeles.
Harper assured reporters his back was fine:
Bryce Harper not thrilled about getting a day off. "Lester's on the mound. I was pretty excited to face him. I like lefties."— Amanda Comak (@acomak) June 10, 2012
Harper didn't start, but he was brought on as a pinch hitter in the top of the 9th of a tie game. The first-year player took a five-pitch walk from 29-year-old, five-year pro Alfredo Aceves. One out later, with two down in the inning, Harper was running when Roger Bernadina connected with a 95 mph 2-2 fastball and lined it to right. Harper never thought about slowing down and he scored, sliding over the plate and slapping it as he passed. 4-3 Nationals.
After Tyler Clippard closed out the sweep of the three-game series with a 25-pitch save, MASN's Kristin Akra asked Harper if he'd ever considered stopping:
Kristin Akra: "No chance you were stopping at third, huh?
Bryce Harper: "No shot." [laughs]
Davey Johnson told reporters after the win that Harper let him know throughout the game that he was available if needed. "He came running out, I think in the seventh inning, and I said, 'Have you been swinging?' And he said, 'I'm fine. I'm fine.' Made that point real clear." The Nats' skipper then waited until the best opportunity to use Harper as a pinch hitter and when an RBI opportunity failed to arise he finally went with him in the ninth...